EXHIBITOR OF THE YEAR

Odeon

With international box office enjoying a countercyclical bounce, it’s a good time to be Europe’s biggest exhibitor.

Odeon/UCI Cinemas is the largest chain outside North America — No. 1 in the U.K., Spain and Italy, No. 2 in Ireland and No. 3 in Germany, Austria and Portugal.

All those territories are enjoying a boffo year. Box office is up about 30% in Britain and Ireland, around 15% in Spain and Austria, and 5% in Italy and Germany, with another strong summer of releases to come.

The chain, headed by chief exec Rupert Gavin and owned by British private equity group Terra Firma, isn’t resting on its laurels. It’s plowing ahead with its conversion to digital and 3-D.

Odeon/UCI already claims Europe’s most extensive digital network, with more than 100 3-D screens ready for July’s launch of “Ice Age 3.”

It recently announced it has raised $60 million from private investors to fund a three-year program to complete the digital rollout.

Meanwhile, the loop is continuing to grow, with new sites opened in Milan, Lisbon, Liverpool, Belfast and Wrexham over the past year.

“With such a fast expansion plan, we look forward to continuing to develop the business and welcoming many more customers through our doors,” Gavin says.

DISTRIBUTOR OF THE YEAR

Daniel Frigo / Walt Disney Motion Pictures Intl.

Daniel Frigo has witnessed firsthand the growth of international box office from mere afterthought to its current integral position in the business thinking of the studios.

The Disney Intl. executive VP and g.m., who is being honored as international distrib of the year at Cinema Expo 2009, joined Disney in 1992 at its Burbank HQ before moving to London in 1994. Since then, he has seen his responsibilities at the Mouse House expand along with the studios’ fortunes at the international box office. He now supervises Disney’s distribution activities in the U.K., Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“When I started 17 years ago, international box office was considered something of a side dish,” Frigo says. “Now we’re the appetizer, main dish and pudding. The revenues are so big now it’s an exciting place to be. In 2008, Europe accounted for $10 billion. That means Europe alone is now bigger than domestic.”

And the 46-year-old exec believes the only way is up for international as digital technologies and emerging markets reach maturity. “Russia could offer amazing growth,” he says. “They have a huge culture of storytelling, and there are still large parts of the country not served by cinemas.”

CINEMA EXPO AWARD OF APPRECIATION

Chas Evans / Paramount Pictures Intl.

Chas Evans, senior VP of creative affairs at Paramount Pictures Intl., is the guy who makes his bosses look good by cutting a killer showreel when they have to give a presentation or pick up an award.

But now it’s his turn to step into the spotlight. He’s being honored with the Cinema Expo Award of Appreciation, recognizing more than two decades of unsung work overseeing the creation of posters, TV spots and other marketing materials in every country outside North America.

The process has become mind-bogglingly complex, which went to an extreme with the recent “Star Trek” campaign. That global day-and-date release had to deal with wild regional variations in attitudes to the franchiseand the multinational cast of relative unknowns.

“We had some very hairy moments, because we were changing stuff all the time,” he says. “It was incredibly satisfying, but also a nail-biter.”

Job done, Evans has now moved on to “Transformers,” “GI Joe” and “Shutter Island,” and of course, the most important task of all — cutting his best-ever showreel for his own CinemaExpo award.

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR

Pierre Morel

If you want a kinetic chase movie that doesn’t pause for breath or thought, then French cinematographer-turned-director Pierre Morel is your man.

The $220 million global gross for his kidnap thriller “Taken” proves that, in the midst of a recession, audiences want to be swept away on a roller-coaster ride.

Morel is a protege of Luc Besson and shares his mentor’s popcorn sensibility.

He started out as a camera operator and cinematographer on Besson-produced movies such as “The Transporter” and Besson’s own commercials, then made his directing debut with the Gallic gang drama “District 13″ — written and produced by Besson, of course.

But it was “Taken,” his English-language debut and another Besson script, that made him the hottest new action helmer on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now he is finishing “From Paris With Love,” starring John Travolta in another race against time through the French capital, again produced by Besson’s EuropaCorp.

Then he’s taking his patented brand of urban chase thriller to Tokyo for an untitled Paramount script by Frank Baldwin, his first project outside Paris and without Besson.

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